Maria Montessori was a woman far ahead of her time, a visionary and a scientist. She developed a system of education, and a way of understanding and honoring children, that was based on scientific observation, seeing the child as he or she truly is. These principles of Montessori philosophy—such as the absorbent mind, sensitive periods, and intrinsic motivation—are confirmed by the most recent brain research about how children learn and how the brain develops. These principles have still not been assimilated into standard educational practice; in many ways Montessori remains ahead of our times.
Dr. Montessori was born in Italy, and in 1896 she became the first woman physician in that country, a remarkable feat in itself; a few years later she also obtained a doctorate in anthropology. In 1906 she opened her first “Casa dei Bambini,” or “House of Children,” in a slum area of Rome called San Lorenzo, and news of the wonders there soon spread around the world. In 1915 she came to America for the first time, invited by such people as Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, and Alexander Graham Bell. Her first demonstration classroom was greeted by great excitement in this country, yet certain controversies in the world of American education led to the suppression of her schools here for decades afterwards. It was not until the 1960’s, after her death, that Montessori schools began their resurgence in the United States.
Dr. Montessori dedicated her life to continuing research and refinement of her method, publishing books, developing materials, and overseeing the establishment of schools and training centers world-wide. She was expelled from Italy during the 1930’s, as an enemy of fascism. When the Second World War began, she was in India, establishing a training center, and she was interned there as an Italian enemy alien, throughout those years. The government did allow her to continue her training and work, and some of her most profound books were written during those years.
It was during that period, late in her life, that her view of cosmic education fully developed. She became committed to a global vision of humanity, arguing that only through right education of our children will world peace be achieved. Once again she was ahead of her time, with this understanding of the planet as a whole, and a vision of the potential evolution of humanity. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.
Maria Montessori died in 1952 in the Netherlands. Since her death, Montessori education has flourished, with schools on every continent, and training centers worldwide. A diverse and sometimes competing group of Montessori organizations and training centers developed over the years. It is worthy of note that in the last decade there has been a strong and heartening move among some Montessorians, including the leaders of the largest organizations, to work together more.. In this second decade of the 21st century, a hundred years after her first “Casa,” Dr. Montessori’s insights and holistic method of education are more relevant and necessary than ever.